As concerns for the mental wellbeing of young adults grow, the National Council’s youth-oriented program, CONNECTED, seeks to better understand the lived experience of youth from underserved communities and partner with them to improve access to mental health supports. For insights “on the ground,” we spoke with Kiki (pictured), a 20-year-old CONNECTED youth influencer enrolled in college, about the program, her mental wellbeing and returning to school.
How did you hear about CONNECTED?
I heard about CONNECTED from a mentor and family friend. She said I should try and join because she knows I’m passionate about mental health. To become a part of the National Council program, I joined M.A.D. – H.O.P.E., an organization that was applying to be a part of CONNECTED. M.A.D. – H.O.P.E. is a collaborative, local program that’s focused on youth suicide prevention. After joining M.A.D. – H.O.P.E., five individuals, including me, were selected to participate in the CONNECTED initiative.
What do you do for the CONNECTED program?
As a member of M.A.D. – H.O.P.E. and a CONNECTED youth influencer, my responsibility is to take whatever I learn from CONNECTED workshops or trainings and promote that knowledge to my local community and M.A.D. – H.O.P.E. For example, the CONNECTED work I did with other influencers inspired us to host a community conversation and art contest. We also held a workshop for our Trusted Adult campaign, which focuses on youth turning to trusted adults in times of crisis.
What does being a part of CONNECTED mean to you?
Being a part of CONNECTED has helped me take a step closer to my professional goal of becoming a counselor one day. The program has taught me a lot about mental health, like the different signs that may indicate someone is dealing with depression or anxiety, coping mechanisms for mental health problems and much more. CONNECTED has also played a large role in spreading mental health awareness in my local community.
How do you feel about returning to school during the pandemic?
I’m not really anxious about going back to school during the pandemic. At times, I can be an introvert, especially in new social settings, so going back to school has always been a bit uncomfortable for me. When I was younger, I was bullied for some medical conditions I have, and that always made me very anxious and self-conscious when it was time to go back to school. With these medical conditions, it can make physically navigating campus a little rough, which can be stressful.
How have you been managing your mental wellbeing during these difficult times?
At the start of the pandemic, my mental health was OK. Things slowly started to change, though. I was living with my grandparents, and it quickly became a very negative environment. Because I wasn’t able to go out, I fell back into my depression. Luckily, I had my mom and dog to help me get through those times. When I was finally able to see people again, I noticed an improvement in my mental health. I also picked up photography as a hobby and spent a lot of time taking photos at my grandmother’s place. My family, photography, reading and journaling were all very important in my journey toward better mental wellbeing during the pandemic.
What resources do you or your peers need right now?
I would like to have better quality mental health services. When I was dealing with depression during the pandemic, I didn’t reach out to mental health professionals because I’ve had negative experiences in the past. Because of that, I find it hard to trust mental health professionals. I also wish it was easier to find and access a counselor or therapist. Sometimes young adults like me may not have a car or the insurance to afford visits. A low-income option for mental health services would be amazing!
What else can the National Council do to help today’s youth?
Keep reaching out! Have the CONNECTED youth influencers do more work to spread mental health awareness in their communities. Educating the general youth population on mental health – and putting channels in place to allow youth influencers like me to openly practice the tools we learn in trainings and workshops – would give my generation a set of skills they could use for the rest of their lives when it comes to managing their own wellbeing.
What can parents and educators do to better support the mental wellbeing of youth?
Reach out to the youth in their lives. Asking someone how they’re doing and checking in with them is incredibly powerful. Parents and educators should also ask young adults, ‘Who is a trusted adult in your life, and why?’ Adults should have more conversations with youth about gaining trust with adults and be more supportive of their needs. My parents have helped me through my hardest times, and every young adult deserves to have someone in their life they can go to for help.
Learn more about the National Council’s youth wellbeing initiatives and how you can help the young adults in your life thrive during these challenging times.
Marketing and Communications Intern
National Council for Mental Wellbeing